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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Reforms push for university in Hong Kong after ‘appalling’ protest handling

Reforms push for university in Hong Kong after ‘appalling’ protest handling

Bill proposes to reduce size of governing council while drastically increasing the proportion of external members.

Senior management of a leading Hong Kong university will have less say over the selection of its head under a bill moved by pro-establishment lawmakers which seeks to drastically reform the varsity’s governing body.

The proposal, introduced by three lawmakers currently sitting on the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) council, followed the reappointment of Rocky Tuan Sung-chi, who will stay on as president until 2026.

Approval of a new three-year term for Tuan in April drew criticism from the pro-establishment camp, with some complaining it amounted to rewarding him for his questionable performance during the 2019 social unrest, when he showed sympathy towards protesting students.

The bill, unveiled on Tuesday night, proposes to reduce the number of council members from 55 to 34, while drastically increasing the proportion of external members.

Chinese University president Rocky Tuan.

Under the proposed amendment, the number of external members – individuals who are not students or university employees – would drop to 23 from the current 28. The number of internal members would be cut from 27 to 11.

The council would therefore be dominated by external members at a ratio of 2:1 to internal ones, who currently take up half of the membership.

Four out of the university’s six vice-presidents, two college heads, seven faculty deans, four fellows representing different colleges and three senate members would be kicked out of the council.

The bill also suggested raising the threshold for the council to appoint the university’s president. While the current CUHK ordinance only states that the council should decide on the appointment, the proposal said it should be approved by not less than three-quarters of the members.

External members would therefore have a bigger say on future appointments of CUHK’s president.

The three lawmakers – the Liberal Party’s Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, Edward Lau Kwok-fan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Progress of Hong Kong and Bill Tang Ka-piu of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions – said the amendment was prompted by CUHK’s handling of protests on its campus in 2019.

“During the anti-government turmoil in 2019, there was a riot on the campus of CUHK but the attitude and handling of the incident by CUHK was appalling,” they wrote.

“It not only damaged CUHK’s reputation, but also severely impacted the public’s trust in CUHK. Major stakeholders outside the school are extremely disappointed.”

Lawmakers Edward Lau (left), Tommy Cheung and Bill Tang.

They also accused the university administration of “acting in its own way” on the reappointment of the president and criticised the handling of a new design of CUHK’s emblem, which they said had “deeply frustrated” stakeholders outside the varsity.

The council chairman, originally appointed by the chancellor – the city’s leader – based on the council’s nomination, would be picked by the chancellor directly.

The council’s vice-chairman would also be appointed by the chancellor, instead of being elected from among its members.

The private member’s bill will first be discussed at a meeting of the legislature’s education panel on Friday.

The university’s governing council in April resolved that Tuan would be reappointed for three years commencing January 1, 2024.

It was widely reported that three lawmakers on the council – including Cheung and Lau – had opposed the resolution. The third was Alice Mak Mei-kuen, who now serves as secretary for home and youth affairs

The university on Tuesday said it would set up a task force to further consult various stakeholders and submit the preliminary results to the council after it had a meeting on Monday to listen to the proposal.


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